When it clicks

If you’ve ever worked with and watched newcomers take to inline speed skating, you’ve hopefully been a part of the magic moment when it all comes together for them. Especially children. I call it their “click skate.” It’s that special day when the skater “graduates” – when their form finds the refinement it needs to take their skating ability to the next level. It’s when they surprise themselves, when their speed gains and efficiency are noticed by everyone at the same time. And it usually begins when I’m not looking… 

In my case it’s been with three kids in particular, 2 of my own and one Mr. Finn (who I’m now calling Lionheart for purposes of this blog.) These are the pay-off days for me, when nothing could make me more proud, and more glad to have spent my time skating with these future champions.

"No Honey, those aren't wristguards, they're Daddy's flippers!" Speed Demon @ 6.

My daughter chose the “skate name” Speed Demon the day she took off, because, well,  she just loves going fast. She’s 9 and my oldest child. She’s one of the reasons I really began skating in the first place. She was four when we started together. We’d spent a few winter weekends at the ice rink, and when the weather finally cleared we thought it’d be a good idea to keep skating so we went to Goodwill and bought a couple of cheap pairs of Rollerblades to give inline a try. We’ve been skating ever since.

She always enjoyed skating and had been going with us to our indoor practices pretty regularly for the past year when she could, but she was never concerned with pushing herself to improve or go faster until earlier this year. She came back from watching her brother Speedy Weezy compete in a speed skating meet in Wichita with a determination to prove to herself, her family and her skate friends that she could do this just as well as those other kids.

It was pretty much in the two weeks back from the meet that she began practicing her crossover technique in earnest. She’s been a decent straightaway skater, but has been afraid of crossover execution and has at times been downright belligerent in her refusal to even try. Acting more as a personal consultant than a coach, I’ve only gently suggested she work on crossovers if she wanted to maintain and build speed. I don’t crack the whip, ’cause at this age, that’s not really necessary.

Giving her the freedom to get there on her own paid off. As soon as she started working on it she sought my help and help from The Fast Kid. It’s important to note that she looks up to The Fast Kid – a positive skating role model and a really good friend. The Fast Kid is kind to new skaters, and always goes out of her way to work with them one-on-one when she sees them struggling. This is a kid who loves the sport and it shows through in her on and off-rink conduct.

The Fast Kid helps her sister Katie-Bug find her form.

Anyway…Speed Demon took the crossover pointers and started applying them gradually over the span of two or three practices. Then it happened…Speed Demon’s click skate:

I was standing on the sidelines talking to some of the other parents when someone said, “Wow, [Speed Demon] has really gotten fast.” I was just about to say something like, “Yeah, she’s coming along at her own pace…” when she came screaming by us and then into the turn…crossing over the whole way and building speed coming out of the chute at the second cone. And she kept going, and going faster, finding her form. She was staying low, setting up the corners, leaning into the turn and crossing over all the way through to a power out and straightaway sprint. The look of surprise on her face said it all. Then the rink started erupting, because by now everyone had noticed what she was doing. “Go, [Speed Demon] Go!” clapping and smiles all around! It was later in that practice that she actually came out ahead in some of the practice races. She was beaming! We didn’t time her, but she was markedly faster than she’d ever been. We couldn’t wait to get home and tell mom!

HorseyPants was excited to see the big change in Speed Demon’s attitude, so she came to the next practice to see what was happening for herself. With Mom there to cheer her on, Speed Demon went even faster and with better form than she had at the previous session. That’s when we timed her. That’s when we saw her 100m rolling start time drop from a personal best of 18.1 to a new low of 14.6! It literally seemed like an overnight growth spurt! Now she’s really driven to get to practices and move back in the paceline. She’s declared that she wants to skate at Regional’s in May, and she’s working hard to do her best.

A Speed Demon in the making.

Of course, with her new-found form comes new-found difficulty with her skates. She’s starting to feel the pressure of the carbon fiber on her inside left ankle bone. She’s been pretty discouraged, to finally be getting it and now have another obstacle to overcome, but as the coach told her, this is because she’s finally doing it right. We’ve worked through and found a comfort solution for her that will relieve the pressure and keep her growing in her form and with the sport. She’s back in form and happier than can be! She even wants to trail skate with me this weekend!

Then there’s our friend Lionheart. This is a kid who had been skating all of maybe 5 or 6 weeks before his first meet, and got out there in front of that big crowd and finished all of his races knowing he was the last guy on the track. He took the experience and turned it inward, using it to make him a stronger and more powerful skater. He’s been micro-focused on building his form and it’s paying off big time.

You won't find a kid more focused than Lionheart.

In Lionheart’s case, we were in warm ups doing the ol’ 3 lap drop back drill. We got to his pull and he shot out further ahead of the line. I was just about to remind him that it wasn’t a race and that he needed to pull it back when he hit the third cone and I saw a different skater. The click skate in effect! He was down low, on his edges, leaning into the turn, crossing over and pulling away! At this point the rest of the line caught up and they maintained a great warmup pace for the rest of his pull. It wasn’t just a fluke, skating next to him for his next two laps, it was obvious that all of his hard work was paying off. You should have seen the look of pride, accomplishment and confidence on his face when I told him that I’d have to move him back in the line at the next practice!

This video shows Lionheart and Speed Demon up front in the line working on their crossovers before we left for Wichita. They’ve come so far, so fast. That choppiness and stutter stepping is G-O-N-E!

When it comes to inline skating, recognition of progress – personal success – in mastering a particular technique breeds the confidence necessary to take a skater to the next level. Next level skating requires you to know in your heart that you can do it – no matter what “it” is. The feeling that when you commit to that turn, that pass, that sprint, that you know what you’re doing and you just get it done. It’s takes courage to improve, no matter what level you’re at. And once you’ve proven to yourself that you can do it, the next level opens, and it’s onward and upward from there. That’s another one of the reason’s I love this sport so much…

4/4/10 Training: 16.5 miles in the neighborhood for Easter morning. Beat it out before the bad weather rolled in, which allowed me to enjoy the wind and the cold as the weather front approached. As I sat sipping a cup of coffee afterward I watched that same front blow through to reveal a perfectly beautiful morning…so it goes.

4/5/10 Training: 12 miles in the wind today. “Sprummer” in Colorado means the bugs are out off the Big Thompson. No need for a protein shake today, ate plenty of bugs to get my 20%!

4/6/10 Training: Rink Rabbit practice today. We’ve been doing a lot of racing on Tuesdays and the kids are loving every minute of it. You can tell they’re all making progress when they can’t lap each other anymore in singles pursuit (Chase the Rabbit!)

4/7/10 Training: That pesky thing called work got in the way of skating today. It’s all good, I happen to like my job.

4/8/10 Training: Worked straight through most of the day from the wheee hours and hit the trail at 4 o’clock. 22 miles on the trail on a perfect Sprummer afternoon. Lot’s of traffic, but still pulled a really good pace!

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